Defence New Zealand Study

Introduction > Objectives 

Origins of this Study

There is an old joke about advertising which goes that it is universally agreed that half the money spent on it is wasted. The only problem is nobody knows which half.

Like many New Zealanders I have long harboured much the same suspicions about our armed services. Despite the fact that our Government spends over a billion dollars a year on Vote Defence it always seems that our armed services are either too fragile, or too small, or equipped with the wrong sort of equipment to be of much use. Like many New Zealanders I tended to think that defence was just a gesture that New Zealand Governments made, mostly for ceremonial occasions.

What changed my thinking was a coincidence which occurred in 1987 when I was the Science and Technology editor on National Business Review. That year the Lange Labour Government signed up for the ANZAC frigate deal following some heavy "lobbying" by the Australians. In the same year the Bay of Plenty was rocked by a considerable earthquake. Much of the cost of the ANZAC frigates was, like most warships today, tied up in the battle management systems ( written in ADA as it happens) which corresponded to the "technology" part of my brief. But I was struck by the fact that as a nation while we were investing a considerable sum of money on one form of national "insurance" ( two frigates) our people, infrastructure, farms and factories had been struck, without any warning whatsoever, by our own geology - and the billion dollar frigates we were buying would provide no protection, nor even any remedy, to the devastation that nature had wrought.

Since 1987 much has happened which has further reinforced this line of thinking: The collapse of the Soviet Union virtually eliminated the threat of submarine attack to our shipping lanes which frigates are built to counter; The introduction of Rabbit Calici Virus by South Island farmers without any apparent difficulty; The attack on New York's twin towers in 2001 by men armed with nothing more than Stanley knives and air tickets; The peacekeeping deployment of 1,200 personnel in East Timor - New Zealand's largest post-war deployment. The 2004 Tsunami which killed over 200,000 people and wiped out coastal towns around the Indian Ocean. The threat of bird-flu from Asia which could reduce our GDP by a third in one year. All lead inexorably to the conclusion that the old role of armed services - namely to combat other armed services - is, in a time of global peace and mercantilism becoming redundant. Indeed today anti-terrorist, peacekeeping and humanitarian missions are an acknowledged to be among the main functions of most armed services.

And yet since 1987 what has New Zealand done with its armed services? During the period of the National Government they were simply ignored. Old equipment was gradually run-down, ammunition stocks dwindled, our military was essentially defunct. The return of a Labour Government saw the completion of the 2000 Quigley Review. This review has led to a rebuilding of military capability but without significant change in the structure or philosophy of the armed services. The result is a reconstruction that sees large sums of money spent on armoured vehicles but very little on any means to deploy them outside this country. Everywhere there are signs that the existing structures are incapable of delivering a whole-of-defence outlook quite apart from a whole-of-government perspective in their thinking.

In addition there have been questions raised over the way in which our armed services have carried out their re-equipping. The Audit Office has posed serious questions over the suitability of the Light Armoured Vehicle and the tendering of the contracts for the sealift and fisheries patrol vessels. There are additional questions surrounding the Pinzgauer light operational vehicle. All of these point to an armed service which is fractured by inter-service budget wrangling, fixated on Australian and United States outlooks regardless of their proprietry to a remote island nation.

At the same time I have become increasingly struck by the disparity of resources allocated to the defence and to emergency services. While our Police are reasonably well catered for (with 9,300 staff, 330 stations) the Fire Service relies on 11,000 (unpaid) volunteers some of whom in brigades which have been called out over 700 times a year ( thats almost twice a day on average). The Fire Service's total annual operations bill of $160 million is less than the Police operating bill for the road policing ($210 million) and although the fire service cut 800 people out of cars in 2004 alone it gets no money from the National Land Transport Management Fund. And the fire service does reasonably well because it is at least partially funded by levies. The ambulance services rely on donations and volunteers to keep operating, recouping money by selling services to District Health Boards while the Coastguard gets no support from central Government at all.

Meanwhile the ACC is accumulating an enormous capital fund intended to be sufficient to meet its obligations from investment earnings. The Earthquake Commission is a similar capital piggy bank which spends its days investing but which will only pay out $100,000 per house after an earthquake despite the median house value being over $300,000.

If our nation was struck by a major geophysical event - which could happen at any time without any warning whatsoever - New Zealand's taxpayers would look to emergency services and find a system run largely by volunteers whose first priority will naturally be their own families. It would look to the Police who would be overwhelmed. It would look to the military who would be busy spending $1.2 billion a year showing other people our flag.

Given these concerns I began this private examination into what our defence forces would look like were one to take a whole-of -Government perspective to the issue of national security and emergency responsiveness. This study has led me to examine such issues as whether New Zealand should have an air combat force, our sources of military equipment from a political perspective, what the role of our forces should be in a global context, and the extent of all the hazards our nation faces where our military would be naturally expected to play a role. The conclusions are, not surprisingly, quite unlike any previous review of our security apparatus, and my recommendations are, to my knowledge, unique. Rather than skip ahead to find out what they are I invite you to follow the logical path that led to my views.

Some will doubtlessly seek to derisively describe them as "imaginative". I make no apology for being imaginative. In my view the absence of imagination is more than evident in the current failure of the design and development of our force by the Ministy of Defence. I have based my imagination on solid research. The only difficulty, however, with any research into the military is that there is some information which is simply not in the public domain. In some cases it would, in fact be illegal for me to even try and find it out. I refer here, specifically to our special forces and intelligence capability. In these areas I have been somewhat forced to rely on imagination.